I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they’re at risk.
It’s been a little while since I’ve touched on the developments surrounding a proposed outlet mall at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Quite a bit has happened since then.
First, a few preliminaries for those of you unfamiliar with Turkey Mountain…
Turley Mountain is an urban wilderness area in southwest Tulsa, intentionally left as wild as possible and undeveloped, with the exception of a system of dirt trails and minimal signage. It’s become a local haven for hikers, cyclists, runners, families and equestrians, and it’s a true asset to the city.
Turkey Mountain is a conglomerate of properties. The city’s River Parks Authority operates the eastern part of Turkey Mountain, while the western section is privately owned by an assortment of property owners. Established trails run throughout the west side, including some which lead to the Westside YMCA. One piece of property is owned by a landowner who is seeking to sell it to Simon Properties, a huge mall development company that wants to build an outlet mall there. Construction of such a mall – and the infrastructure expansion that would come with it – would disturb or destroy wildlife habitat, eat some of those trails, and could have other negative impacts on the watershed in the Turkey Mountain area.
Needless to say, a lot of us are opposed to this proposal and would like to see the outlet mall built somewhere else. But Simon is intent on going through with its plans. On to the updates…
Simon unveiled its plans
On Friday, Simon Properties unveiled its plans for its proposed mall at Turkey Mountain. They’re dubbing it “Tulsa Premium Outlets,” boasting that it will have 80 stores and bring 800 jobs to the area, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.
A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain’s west side.
The map of the proposal shows what Simon calls an open air “village” type format, surrounded by a large parking lot. I didn’t see anything on the plans to indicate a buffer between the lot and the rest of Turkey Mountain, aside from what I guess is the thin strips of green along the fringes; all I can assume is that the mall will be separated from the rest of the area by a fence, a wall, or something like that. I could be wrong about that. Maybe Simon has plans to mitigate the encroachment this mall would have on the rest of Turkey Mountain. If so, a bunch of us would like to hear it.
Simon has competition
Friday’s press conference was the third of three from outlet mall developers this fall. Two other competitors – the Cherokee Nation and Horizon Properties earlier showcased plans for upscale outlet malls on the east side of the Tulsa metro area.
The Cherokees want to build a huge outlet mall adjacent to their golf course and casino complex in Catoosa, a small town just northeast of Tulsa. The city of Tulsa would rather have something inside Tulsa’s city limits as to collect sales tax dollars. So the money angle is big. But the Cherokees have the land, the money and the existing attractions to make it work.
Horizon’s proposal is on Tulsa’s east side and within the city limits. But for whatever reason, the city seems to like Simon’s proposal better.
In any case, there is agreement that only one of these proposals is going to actually turn into reality. All three are competing to sign up the retailers needed to be viable. So the race is on.
Money seems to trump the grand plan
Interestingly, the city’s long-term plan for Turkey Mountain does not include retail development.
Over the years, planners and advisory groups – working in conjunction with city officials and a regional municipal planning group, the Indian Nations Council of Governments – had formed an opinion and a plan for the entire Arkansas River corridor as it runs through Tulsa, including Turkey Mountain, which is on the river’s west bank.
Not only does the plan not say anything about plopping large retail developments around Turkey Mountain, it actually advocates expanding the wilderness area.
According to INCOG’s Arkansas River corridor master plan:
“Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area occupies one of the most prominent locations along the river corridor and represents a unique opportunity for substantial urban wilderness in close proximity to the heart of metropolitan Tulsa. The park should be expanded to the extent possible through the acquisition of adjacent undeveloped property and preserved in perpetuity as an urban wilderness/open space area, Development within the park should be limited to uses complementary to this great natural resource, such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” (emphasis mine)
And here we are now, with a huge corporation waving dollar bills in people’s faces, and the city seems to be forgetting what planners, through a lot of thought and study, decided what was best for the area.
So some points…
Tulsa Premium Outlets isn’t just near the Turkey Mountain area referenced above. It would be inside of it. While the land on which it would be built is privately owned, it is still part of the larger area the master plan deemed needed for the preservation of wild land “in perpetuity.”
City leaders, in considering Simon’s proposal, need to be asking how the mall fits into the master plan, and come to the correct conclusion that it doesn’t. The INCOG plan said anything developed in that area should somehow promote or complement activities “such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” How exactly does a shopping center do that? The answer is simple. It doesn’t.
The city needs to think regionally, and realize that there are other viable proposals that can fill the outlet market. The Tulsa Regional Chamber has made a big point of not just promoting economic activity inside Tulsa’s city limits, but to think regionally. So on that front, the Cherokees’ plan makes sense. It’s a natural spot for development and wouldn’t consume any wild land. And if the city and business interests are dead set on having an outlet mall inside the city limits, Horizon has a plan for that.
The city needs to take a hard look at environmental impact. The watershed into Mooser Creek is quite large, encompassing the bulk of the greater Turkey Mountain area. Do we know what pipeline relocation, road widening and mall construction will do to the watershed? How will all that affect the YMCA? How many trails are going to be lost due to the mall and to road widening? How badly is wildlife going to be squeezed? And lastly, with all these serious questions out there, is it really worth it to move forward?
I know INCOG’s blueprint is not law or anything like that. But it’s a wise plan, one that takes into consideration that some things are worth more than the short-term gains of increased sales tax dollars and low-wage retail jobs.
This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.
What we gain from keeping Turkey Mountain wild is immense. Wildlife keeps its habitat. People win from having a wild place in which they can go, get healthy and be out of an urban environment. And preserving the area not only puts a stamp on positive community values, it also gives us an opportunity to teach children the value nature offers.
For city planners and the City Council, I’d ask that they remember these points before rubber-stamping Simon’s project.
As for those of us in Tulsa, it’s time for a little action. There is a petition you can sign where you can show support in keeping Turkey Mountain wild. You can write and call your City Council representative to let them know what you’re not keen on an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. And if you’re on social media, post your photos and opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag it with #KeepTurkeyWild.
Time to get crackin’, folks. Be heard.